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Nets wrap up homestand vs. Bulls

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Blow the whistle. The Brooklyn Nets opened up December with a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. It was a nasty affair at the Clays, but the Nets did enough to get the win in front of the hometown faithful. Brooklyn remains in first place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The opponent tonight will be the Chicago Bulls. Billy Donovan and friends have been exceeding expectations and have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. They almost tricked off Thursday’s game in MSG against the New York Knicks, but they did enough to come away with the win. The Bulls are second in the standings.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and Nets Radio for the locals. NBATV for everybody else. Tip off after 8.

Injuries

Joe Harris is out. Cam Thomas left Friday’s game with a left quad contusion. No word on his status for tonight. Nic Claxton is back although his return vs. Minnesota was not auspicious.

Coby White is in COVID protocols and out. Patrick Williams is out for the season.

The game

Chicago won the first game in November.

Zach Lavine is in an interesting spot. He hasn’t been on winning teams much throughout his pro career (Team USA notwithstanding) until this year so he’s gained an unfair rep of being an “empty stats” guy. Over at Blog a Bull, your friendly bulls blogger made this observation:

Overall, LaVine hasn’t made a leap this year, but he didn’t have to: last season’s numbers were so impressive that merely sustaining it would have justified the upcoming max contract he’s going to get this summer. His overall Usage% is down a percentage point, and True Shooting down from the god-level 63.4% to 60.2% this year. His 3pt percentage, attempt rate, and free throw rates are all down, but only a bit: his overall PER is 21.2 after being 21.5 last season.

From gunner to winner in no time. It pays to have good players around you for a change. Lavine is someone that can take over and heat up a moment’s notice, so it’s going to take a focused effort for the Nets to slow him down. DeAndre’ Bembry ought to get the assignment against Lavine. He and Bruce Brown provide the team with energy and spark when they’re on the court and if they can make life tough on the Gold Medalist and All Star, Chicago’s offense will be severely limited.

Get ready for a bushel of midrange jumpers tonight. Chicago leads the NBA in shots attempted from the midrange area with the Nets being sixth, and Brooklyn is tops in efficiency while the Bulls are fourth. The best teams use the entire court and have a variety of ways to score. Chicago is second to last in threes attempted, but third in efficiency while the Nets are fifth in efficiency and 22nd in attempts.

We get to say hi to an old friend of ours tonight! Alize Johnson doesn’t get much run with the Bulls, but he was good vibes and had some great moments with the Nets last season. Every team needs an energy guy like him so it’s great that Johnson landed with a good team.

Just like last week, the Nets have a home back-to-back set and their opponent has been in NYC for a few days after playing the Knicks. The NBA has been trying to reduce travel times for teams, so this works.

The league investigated the Bulls for tampering, and took a second round pick away from them. For all that, the league office could’ve spent some time doing other things.

When we last saw the Bulls, Nikola Vucevic was having a miserable start to the season and had one of his worst games of the season against Brooklyn. He spent two weeks in COVID protocols and returned to action the day before Thanksgiving. He had an excellent game against the Knicks as he scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds while making five three pointers. The Knicks allowed him to take a ton of open shots, so Brooklyn will look to crowd him and force him into contested jump shots. Nicolas Claxton made his return on Friday and only played three minutes while picking up three fouls. It’s going to take him time to get back into the swing of things, so look for Steve Nash and company to bring him along slowly. As they do that, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, and James Johnson will handle frontcourt duties at the five. Aldridge had a great game against the Bulls last time, and now that he’s in the starting five, will pose some matchup issues for Chicago from the opening tip.

The Wolves are bottom in the league in opponent’s free throw rate and tops in opponent turnover rate. The Wolves are third worst in opponent free throw rate and sixth in opponent turnover rate. We saw just how nasty the game was last night, so Brooklyn will need to be a lot sharper against one of the better teams in the league tonight. Hopefully tonight’s game is a lot more watchable. If I had a time machine and had a chance to relive any game in NBA history, I would not choose last night’s game.

Been thinking a lot about this Candace Parker interview with Taylor Rooks:

James Harden just has to keep putting pressure on defenses and live with the results. He only shot 4-11 from the field, but he did get to the free throw line, making 12 of them in route to 20 points. His six turnovers made life more difficult for him, and he’ll need to be a lot more careful tonight. He struggled against the Bulls in the first meeting and the duo of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso will look to throw a variety of looks at him into making more errors tonight.

Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan

Every team can use a player like DeRozan. He fits into his role seamlessly, can play multiple positions, can run the offense, provides veteran leadership and can take over late to bring your team across the finish line. He’s one of the more underappreciated players of his generation and he has helped the Bulls to be the best version of themselves so far. The road is only going to get tougher from here, so having someone like DD on your side will help you deal with the ebbs and flows of the NBA grind.

No need to fear, the Slim Reaper is here! Kevin Durant scored nine points in the fourth quarter and hit the game sealing jumper to keep the Wolves at bay. He only played 37 minutes last night, so he’ll have plenty of energy in the tank for this one. Brooklyn has two days off before hitting the road for a week, so a revenge win against one of the best teams in the East would be a good way to exit the Clays.

From the Vault

“You know this brother, Jay-Z, Shawn Carter...”

I could spend more time running through the GOAT’s catalog, but it’s game time!

More reading: Blog a Bull